Beyond Writing Checks: How Businesses Can Help Recruit Great Teachers and Leaders for All Learners

By Ellen Sherratt, Senior Researcher, AIR, Jun 29, 2017

Earlier this month, a handful of wealthy business leaders in Jacksonville, Florida, took a bold and innovative step to elevate teacher and principal salaries in the region. Pooling $40 million in donations, they agreed to provide $20,000/year-- “lifestyle-changing” salary bumps --to educators who are making a difference in the area’s 36 most troubled schools. One donor, former Jacksonville Jaguars football owner Wayne Weaver, explains why he personally is investing $5 million in these educators:

 “We think that human capital is the best investment—having the best and brightest teach and be principals in our lowest-performing schools.”

Attracting and retaining excellent teachers for all students in high-needs schools has been a chronic challenge throughout rural and urban America. Nationwide consensus indicates that teachers and leaders are the two most critical school ingredients for student success. It’s time for businesses to aim some of the $3 billion to $4 billion they donate annually to schools toward supporting equitable access to great teachers and leaders.

Schools are not businesses, but business leaders have much to offer schools:

  • Enough clout in the community to spark discussions and partnerships among themselves, policy leaders, community leaders, and other stakeholders on the best public and private sector priorities
  • Effective staff recruitment, retention, and development strategies―as in Austin, Texas, where the Chamber of Commerce and school district regularly collaborate to exchange strategies and brainstorm about how business approaches to talent development can translate to schools
  • Financial support, particularly when taxpayer resources don't cover struggling schools’ critical needs, as in Jacksonville
  • Research insights, such as KPMG’s international study of business leaders’ approaches to understanding and aggressively recruiting and retaining top talent from Generation Y. (Note: Our strategies for leading Gen Y teachers, Gen Y teacher introduction video, Gen Y retaining teacher talent discussion starter videos, and Gen Y discussion facilitator’s guide provide a starting place for education leaders. But, historically, the education field has been less proactive than business in addressing staffing needs for five, 10, or 15 years in the future.)

Businesses have a vested interest in high-school graduates being skilled, literate, and job ready. Writing checks helps, but working alongside school leaders to develop and fund strategies that produce the best outcomes for students is the other half of the deal.

Are business leaders ready and able to make important decisions about education? Many school leaders say no. Earlier this month, the Boston Consulting Group, the Harvard Business School, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-published a study about superintendent/business collaboration. Only 3 percent of school superintendents rated business leaders as "well-informed" about public education, the study found, while 14 percent of superintendents considered businesses “misinformed” about schools. The bottom line? Business contributions to schools must transition away from a patchwork of short-term “pet projects” and toward long-term supports to strengthen the whole education system.

Such supports could include securing great teachers and leaders for our high-need students by:

  • Creating task forces to explore ways to re-target business giving
  • Developing resources to help guide business and school collaboration or business donations, such as this Philanthropy Roundtable guidebook by Eduwonk blogger Andrew Rotherham.
  • Encouraging business leaders to spend more time in local schools and educators in businesses―or at least promote dialogue between business and school or district leaders
  • Visiting our Moving Toward Equity online resource for raising awareness and sparking dialogue with business and community stakeholders

Now it’s your turn: How can state leaders in your setting connect business leaders and educators to promote equitable access to excellent teachers and leaders?

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